Woodstock town supervisor Jeremy Wilber warned of tight fiscal times, at the town board’s July 14 meeting, while the Town Board heard about plans for a new Comeau property information kiosk, approved a water line easement to ensure better reliability and heard complaints about continued access barriers and allegations of disability discrimination at the Community Center.
Back from surgery and an extended respite, Wilber cautioned that the town now has a cashflow problem. Though it hasn’t reached crisis proportions yet and is only temporary, he’s asking every department for a bit of penny pinching.
Wilber wanted to make it clear the current lack of funds has nothing to do with the Community Center project. Despite rumors to the contrary, there are no overruns in the project and in fact, he said, it will probably have a small balance when it is finally complete. Further, the funding is completely separate and does not pertain to the town’s daily operations budget, explained Wilber. The cashflow issue instead has to do with the revenue projected for this year, the culprit being, thus far, that mortgage tax proceeds are coming in lower than projected in the budget, which could result in a $45,000 shortfall, Wilber said.
Adding to the revenue dip is the prospect of a difficult 2016 budget, of which Wilber must present a draft to the board by October. The supervisor said he is committed to keeping within the state’s 2 percent cap on property tax increases, even though the board can vote to override it. The 2016 budget will “probably the most difficult in the next three years,” Wilber said. “We really have to count our nickels and rub them together.”
The town has submitted an efficiency plan with the state and if it remains below the cap, taxpayers benefit. As a reward for the town’s frugality, taxpayers stand to receive a rebate from the state ranging from…Are you sitting down? Somewhere between $7 and $22. But don’t plan on that windfall now. Checks won’t go out until 2016.
Ensuring water reliability
The board approved a water line easement through the Woodstock Commons complex with the Rural Ulster Preservation Company to ensure better reliability for town water customers. RUPCO is committed to maintaining water lines in its complex, but the easement would allow the town to come in and make repairs should the development default on its obligations, Wilber said. The town would then charge RUPCO for necessary repairs.
The easement would also allow the town to connect continuously through to Elwyn Lane, creating a large loop rather than a dead-end that exists now. This is more beneficial to balancing pressure in the system, Wilber explained. It would also allow the town to limit disruption in the event of a main break rather than having to shut off water to the entire eastern end of town as is now necessary.
Violating their own policy?
The board adopted an affirmative action plan as required to accept funding under the New York Rising block grant program to provide relief from Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee and Superstorm Sandy.
The plan prohibits workplace employment discrimination on the basis of age, race, color, religion, gender, creed, national origin, physical or mental disability, marital status, veteran status, disabled veteran status or status as a member of any other protected group of activity.
Addressing another requirement for disaster funding, the town implemented a grievance procedure for those complaining of discrimination, naming Wilber as grievance coordinator.
But public access TV producer Randi Steele said the new policy is the opposite of what is happening at the Community Center renovation under the eyes of Councilwoman Cathy Magarelli and Councilman Bill McKenna. “The ad hoc committee for the TV station since the very beginning of the project said it wanted a distinct and separate keyed entrance,” Steele said. “They got that, but at the expense of who and what? At the expense of a disabled person who’s been a producer since 2011 there, that never had to step up to get into the TV station and now has to go through what is actually a fire trap to be stuck in there…I can’t believe the insensitivity of Bill McKenna and of Cathy Magarelli just to shrug their shoulders all the time.” Steele also complained steps are being put in “without so much as a banister for a disabled person to be able to get up to that TV studio.”
Steele recently filed a complaint with the Justice Department under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming the plan to allow access through a ramp at the front entrance is discriminatory. Handicapped people would have to travel through the entire building to reach the studio, which is logistically complicated and dangerous if there is an event in the building, she said previously.
McKenna and Magarelli have said they’ve tried to work with Steele and will address issues of she points out any violations. The town solicited architectural barrier consultant Gilles Malkine, who determined the building and access plans are not in violation of the ADA, a point Wilber reiterated after the meeting. “In the town’s opinion, we’re not in violation,” Wilber said, though he added that more changes may happen after the building is open. He compared it to buying a home, then making changes once one moves in and realizes certain things don’t work.
Comeau Stewardship Advisory Committee member Jeff Viglielmo presented plans to erect a six-sided information kiosk on the lawn near the entrance to the Comeau Preserve trail loop. The Comeau property is the 76 acre parcel on which the town offices sit, the uses of which are directed by an easement given the Woodstock Land Conservancy.
The wooden structure will likely have a bluestone base large enough for people to sit and seek shelter from the rain while they read about the preserve and its guidelines. It will be a great improvement over the pamphlet holders attached to the trailhead gate, Viglielmo noted.
Construction is estimated at $3000 and the committee has $1500 available. The town is not in the position to contribute any money, so CSAC is looking for donations toward the project.
The Town Board voted to forward the plans to the Woodstock Land Conservancy for review.
Thanks for picking up the slack
“I realize there were quite some tasks that you had accomplished, some controversies that you had to face, and I want to thank you for the hard work that you did,” Wilber said in gratitude to the Town Board and those who kept the town running in his absence. “I thank all of the employees of our town for not taking advantage and getting away with murder,” he said with a laugh.
“I’m really impressed by the resilience of our institution and our organization here. It just seems to function fine without me.” Wilber also thanked the many concerned residents who sent cards with wishes for a speedy recovery.
Coming up next week
The town is formulating a new fee schedule for use of the Community Center and other buildings to address rising costs while trying to keep rates affordable. The proposed rate schedule will be posted on the town’s website woodstockny.org in time for comment at the monthly business meeting July 21 at 7 p.m. at the town offices, 45 Comeau Drive.